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Thursday, Jan 1.

On the way back from Costa Rica in February 2008 I was bumped from my flight and I received a free return ticket to Costa Rica. I thought I would make a day trip to Panama, as it is a one-day bus ride to Panama City. My grandmother lived there as a teenager while her Father, C.A. Gates run a sawmill in the jungle. Digging through old family photos I found that the saw mill was in the village Rio Congo and started looking into the possibility of visiting the village.

Rio Congo is on the edge of the world. There are no road to Rio Congo. The closest road is more than 30 miles thru thick jungle and swamps. I am very excited about finding Rio Congo. I grew up with stories from my Grandmother and I cant wait. I leave in 9 days and I am 90% packed.

Thursday, Jan 8.

One day to go before I leave. I am all packed and I am double checking everything. Just finished up some design work and practicing spanish. I listen to spanish TV and radio every day and well as watch several youtube.com spanish lessons.

I have been wearing my new Vasque boots to get used to them. They are so comfortable. I might never go back to my old shoes.

I pulled my back the other day so I am been taking it easy on working out. I had been spending allot of time getting in shape for the trip. There is not much exercise in designing web sites. Except my mouse finger. That's in great shape. The rest of me I am working on.

Saturday, Jan 10. - Airport, Charlotte, North Carolina.

I am sitting on the floor waiting to board my plane in Charlotte, North Carolina. I have been on planes or in airports for 14 hours now. And I have 5 more hours to go before I get to Costa Rica. They just called a pre-boarding passport check. All the costa rica passenger are lining up at the counter.

This concourse of the airport is all flights to cool tourist destination, the islands, central america, etc. Most of the people boarding my flight have Carry on bags with rollers. Not quite the free sprit backpacker crowd. Although the costa rica crowd seem to prefer to sit on the floor than in the row of seats provided by the airport.

Sunday, Jan 11 - 3pm - Tamarindo, Costa Rica.

The flight was North Carolina was good. Flew over Cuba. Seems silly to be able to fly over it but not land. I want to visit Cuba someday. In line for the flight I bet these two sisters from Wisconsin. I hit is off with them and after we boarded the flight they had an open seat in their row so they invited me to join them. They are living in Tamarindo, Costa Rica for the next month to learn spanish at an intensive language school here.. I hope to run into them again. They were very cool. Its hard to communicate with people down here. Everyone's cell phone from the states does not work here. So no texting, calls etc. I shared a bus with the girls from the airport to Tamarindo. Then I set off to find my hotel. I had a room reserved, the deposit was $3.00. I never found it but I did not look to hard. I found a bar on the beach and ended up talking to some europeans that live here. I ended up handing out with them all night and got a room in their hotel. We sat our all night talking and telling stories and got very drunk by the hotel pool. I stayed in the Pueblo Dorado Hotel. The hotel was very nice, $50 cash for the night. Pool, A/C, nice bathroom. The hotel is on the edge of town, 3 blocks from the center of town. The room is nicer than I need so I moved to a hotel in the middle of town. No private bathroom, small and very basic. But is has fan. $15 for the night. Its right in the middle of the town so its nice to use as a base to walk around.

I'm not sure what to do next. Its a very odd feeling and its also nice. I'm not use to know knowing what to do next. Its odd to think I could sit here for the next few days and do nothing but drink beer. Its 3pm and I am on my forth beer. They say the water is good here but I still am being safe. I had lunch at a restaurant on the beach, got 2 beers and chicken dinner. The price was $12.00 with tip. Tip is included in the price of everything here.

Its hot and humid here. I'm by the ocean so the insects are not to bad. Lots of tourists here. Everyone speaks english to some degrees.

 

 


Monday, January 12 - 2:19 pm - Tamarindo Costa Rica

Its Monday Afternoon and I am sitting at the Coastal Spanish School in Tamarindo. Very cool concept. Live in Tamarindo for a few weeks, see the sites, hit the beach all while learning spanish in a intensive immersion setting. Its a great way to learn spanish. Check out their web site. The girls I met on the plane attend this school. Yesterday I stopped by the school to say Hi and I met the owner who invited me to join the students for dinner and then drinks. Classed for them started at 7am and the students did not last long. The Owner and I stayed up until 3am taking about everything. He is originally from LA and we talked and talked about politics, business, religion, social issues, etc. So far the highlight of my trip to debate all the most sensitive and passionate issues with a very nimble person.

I stayed at the Coral Reef Hostel last night. $15 for a tiny room and a very uncomfortable bed. The shower has no hot water. But its 80-90 degrees here so their cold water is really quite warm and feels good to wash off the dust and sweat. Tamarindo is all dirt roads and its the dry season here so everything stirs up dirt. Locals say that the Coral Reef Hostel is doggy but it seem ok. I had a private room with a shared bathroom. The dorms did not seem very secure. And the staff is not very attentive. But its in the middle of town and cheap. I first just planned to use it to store my backpack while I walked around. But then at 3am after drinking with my new friends at Bar 1 a very cool bar on the 3 floor of a building with a LA lounge feel and chill house music. I did not see any reason to find a better place. I just wanted any flat place to lay down and sleep. I did not sleep well. There is a kitchen or laundry or something right behind my room and women were clanging and talking and banging stuff. It drove me nuts. I woke up at 1:30pm. Check out was noon, but no one seemed to care.

Here are some photos of my room last night, the beach and the sunset. I think I might get a bus tonight and head over to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. I'm told its very different. The country has a ridge of mountains the splits the country in two. Some of the mountains are 10,000 feet and one is an active volcano.





 

Tuesday, January 13 - 8:20 pm - Tamarindo Costa Rica

I keep finding reasons to stay in Tamarindo. I was planning to head out to the Caribbean coast last night but I meet some really cool people and stayed another day. After I got up yesterday I headed over to the school to see my new friends and the owner and I talked about some business the night before so I wanted to meet him. I went over and met Hugh, the owner and he wanted to show me some property he is thinking about developing.


A beautiful house in the mountains, about 10 minutes from Tamarindo. She is showing me the land and the existing house. Whiles we are talking details he points out some monkeys in a tree. We went back to taking business and I then interrupted him and said "Monkeys?" I was totally fixated. I stopped listening to what he had to say. The kept taking. Until he realized I did not care what he was telling me. He then offered to walk down the hill to the tree to get a closer look. Its very odd for me, a big city boy, to think that wild monkeys are playing in a tree and a mom with a tiny baby on her back. Its was very cool. I will put up video soon of the monkeys. The monkeys soon moved on and out of view. After some more business we headed back into town and got ready for a barbeque. I rode alone with Hugh to the best local grocery store. Very very nice. It services the large number of Americans and others that have retired here with all the brands you expect in a clean well lit store with great helpful staff. The store had been open for a year. Its one of the signs of how Tamarindo is changing. There is a sushi bar in the store with a chief to make custom rolls for you. Allot of the locals are very upset with the development here. Tamarindo has a Pizza Hut, Subway, and TCBY. The town is still dusty and sleepy but there are many many million dollar homes in the hills. The town even has a sushi restaurant along a dusty road. They are building new high rise condo that will continue to change this cool surfing village in the Cancun of Costa Rica. Plans are in the works to pave the dusty roads. If you want to see this town hurry. It will lose it charm soon
.

Super Market

High end furniture store in the shopping center on the edge of town

New Condo development. 1 block from the ocean.

After the BBQ, I hung out checked into the Hotel Nahua. The room was $50 but Hugh who dropped my off Negotiated a price of $40. Also staying there was two guys in the 50s from Michigan who are riding motorcycles to the southern tip of South America. It was fun to talk about Michigan, Detroit, and their trip. You can see their blog and progress at: http://www.patagonia-bound.blogspot.com. I rolled into bed about 6am. At 10:20 am I was awoken by the staff if I was checking out. I yelled at them in by broken spanish and pissed off english to come back. Checkout time is 11am not noon like most places. I might of stayed another night, but I was pissed off and checked out.





Hotel Nahua

After a while I headed down to the the Pacifico, a beach bar. I was bored there. Lots of tourists and prostitutes. I stayed for 5 minuets and headed back to my hotel room. I was going to take a little nap and head to the bus stop to take the 3am bus to San Juan. On the way back to the hotel I was walking past the Ray Sol a local disco. Every place here is open to the outside and have tables outside. Its so hot here there is little differentiation between inside and out. Its all just hot. Anyway's, I saw someone I meet the night before at Bar 1 having drinks with a group of people. I stopped and said hello and was invited to join them. We talked and I was introduced to the owner, Scott, who lives here but is from LA. We closed that place and hit the next spot, closed that place and then sent to the beach to watch the sun come up. So beautiful. The beach was deserted except for us. In the horizon was a blinking light in the sky. It was flashing red, green, blue, yellow and white. There was no other stars in the sky as it was a full moon. It was a planet or a UFO. Either way it was very fascinating to watch. We then took a dip in the ocean under the moon light. It was magical and so peaceful with the moon, waves, and mountains.

Once the sun came up the we went to breakfast and it started getting really hot. The restaurant called FT has air conditioned room and wifi internet for $30 so I get a room and took a nap. I sleep most of the day and did some work, check emails and facebook. Its 9:30 and I will going to head out then to the bus at 2am headed to San Juan, unless something else cool happens.

 

Here are some more shots of Tamarindo.


Wednesday, January 14 12:40pm - On bus from San Jose to Limon

I'm sitting on the bus from the Capitol, San Jose to Limon a port city on the Caribbean. The bus is a basic greyhound bus. My day started at 2am. I checked some stuff on line and then organized my stuff for the days bus ride, and headed down to go to the bus stop. I gave the guard my key and asked the guard what time it was. I miss understood his spanish and thought I has miss the bus. I asked for my key back and went back up to my room. Went up to my room and got back on line and my computer showed I had not missed it. I packed up again and walked down and give the guard my key. I asked him where the stop was and he pointed 50 yards down the road. I have everything on my back, its night and I am always careful plus I did not see anyone else waiting. I trusted the guard but I did not want to stand on the street alone and wait for a bus. So I asked if I could wait with him in the pitch black patio until the bus came. The bus came flying down the road, stopped at the stop and let someone out, The bus stated again almost before the passenger has both feet on the ground. Well I missed it. So I asked the guard if I can hang out with him until the next bus came, which was 2 hours, 5:30 am. Over the next two hours he and I became friends. His job is to sit alone in the dark patio of this restaurant/hotel and make sure no one robs the place. He knows a little english and I know a little spanish now. I think he enjoyed the company and I was glad to have the company. We laughed, talked out bout hour lives. Its was like two children having a conversation. Lots of hand gestures. But it works and we had fun.

The bus is headed down the mountain. San Jose in on top of the mountain ridge the divides the country. This is a very step drop thru a beautiful valley with a long very narrow tunnel. Everything is green and we are just below the clouds.

Thursday, January 15, 5am - Puerto Veijo, Costa Rica

I could not sleep so I am up in the patio of the hotel bloging. I thought about walking around town but its still to dark. I have been told not to walk around at night.

Here is more of my bus ride story from Tamirindo to Puerto Veijo. The bus ride was amazing. Long but amazing. After waiting for over 2 hours in Tamarindo at a closed restruant the bus finally came flying down the road in the darkness of night at 5:30am. My new friends jumped into the middle of the road and flagged down the bus and it stopped and I got on. The drive wanted me to put my backpack under the bus. That is a risky thing to do. I refused and we argued for a minute. I told him it would fit in over head. I finally just walked back and it just fit. I paid my $9 and took a seat in the back of the bus. After the next stop, the bus conductor, make me move to another seat. There were lots of seats I could not understand why I had to move. The next stop after that more people got on and the conductor made me give up my seat again this time the bus was full and I had to sit on the floor. I was getting pissed. I was first on. They guy was making lots of people switch seats. Its was like musical chairs. Finally I figured out some people had assigned seats. I don't know how you get those tickets. I guess if you get on in the middle of the night at the side of the road you dont get a seat. And the driver had the AC on. Its was cold on the bus. And I am in shorts with a very light shirt on. I was so cold. I ended up back in a seat and sat next to an guy who is a artist and does painting. He knew a little english and my spanish is getting better. We talked and talked and had a great time. Once you get away from the coasts american are not that common and I am a bit of a novelty.

I got some sleep on the trip. The was bouncy, cold and daylight.

When we got to San Juan I met this German and we shared a taxi from the terminal to a different terminal to get the bus to Limon. The bus was a rundown Greyhound. Not many foreigners. And this time I had an assigned seat, an allie I sat next to this guy that looks polish and is local. He knew a little english and I got better at my spanish. I keep taking pictures and he offered to change seats so I could be next to the window and take photos. He also would tell me when I need to have my camera ready as the view would be amazing around the corner.

The bus takes you through a national park. Miles and miles of jungles and mountains. It was beautiful.

They guy was I was sitting next to, Alanzo, just got laid of from his job and was headed back to Limon to see his wife and kid. He as a 1 year old son. But he and his wife have been fighting. Now he has to come home jobless. You lean such personal things about people on a bus. Allot of people leave their families to find work in different cities. He likes american classic rock and we talked about music, family, american sports. We became friends over the next 3 hours on the bus. Once you pass the national park, you get into the lowlands. Its all banana groves owned by Dole and Chiquita. There signs are everywhere. I now offically in at banama republic. I asked him about Limon and we warned me about the town. The cruse ships dock there and it safe by the beach and the port but not to walk around the city and explore it. Limon is a major port with the export of Bananas. The bus passed thousands of containers bound for ships. It look like a small Long Beach with the trucks and containers, truck supply and repair shops.

Several people have advised me not to walk around Limon so I decided to carry on to Puerto Veijo one hour south of Limon. My new friend was happy to see his son but stressed to see the wife.

Alanzo mentioned that he was looking forward to getting of the bus and getting a beer. I met him quickly before we boarded the bus in San Jose and we randomally sat next to each other and he was very cool. So I thought I could trust him to get a beer. And this was his home town and I did not know where the other bus station was to get the next bus. We we walked alone as he reminded me to hold on to my stuff. There was lots of police around. Limon has a city feel. I did not take any photos walking around as I did not want to pull my camera out. We stoped at a cool local dive bar, had 3 beers, and talked more about our lives and helped each other learn our langages. The sun was going to set in an hour and I wanted to get to the bus station before dark. I bought him the beers. He just lost his job and is going home to a wife that is not happy. I had to buy him the beers. He offered me to stay at his home that night to say thank you and he had a good friendship. But I am always worried about traveling alone and putting my self in to any risky situation. I told him I need to keep moving to make it to panama on my schedule. So we left the bar and he walked me to the bus station to make sure I did not get lost or bothered. At the bus station he made sure I got the right ticked and on the right bus. Just a great example of the kindness of people.

The bus from Limon to Puerto Viejo was run down. Its rattled and shaked. It felt like my school bus from highschool. I sat next to a kid studing medicean at the local university. he had a cool cell phone and a stack of anatamy books. When he found out I am an American he asked me how to pronounce a lot of medical terms. He knew some english. And wanted to know how I pronounced the terms. The best was cadaver. His pronouncaion was very spansih. And how do you use simple words we both know to come up with cadaver. There is not much hand justures to help. He was taking gross anamaty and was working on cadavers. That took us 10 minutes to figure out.

 

Thursday, January 15, 4:30pm - Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

I got off the bus in Puerto Viejo. It was around 7 or 8 pm. I really did not like the town when I first arrived. Its a very reggae island vibe. There are hippies and locals selling coral and shell jewelry and lots of people asking if you want weed or coke. I was tired from almost 12 hours and busses. I needed to decide if I wanted to get a bus in the morning to Panama or stay another day. I walked around and found a nice restruant in the middle of town. I like to stop off at a nice restruant when I first get in town. Its a good place to meet locals business owners and expats. They are a great source of advice and genneraly unbiased.

I started a conversation with a couple sitting mext to me. They suggested a hotel to say in and I checked it out and really like it. Its called a "Hotel" but really is a hostel. Its a super hostel with 60 rooms. The Hotel Puerto Viejo. Im in room number 65. The fee is $15. Its a small room with a double bed. Its clean and there is a pad lock on the outside of the door. I got my key and unpacked. I was tired and sent to bed. I was alseep by 9pm. The town is partying and the window is just a screen and bars for security. I woke up at 5am. It was too dark to walk around and I jumped on line and posted and did some emails. At dawn I decided to walk around and take some photos. I found a bakery and got a great pastry with ham and cheeze. After breakfest I came back to the hotel and talked with people there. I decided to stick around and take a day and see this carribien villge. Later that afternoon I checked out the beach and explored the town some more. Then I took a nap.

Pureto Vieja is a carribien town very influnced by the island vibe. The population is more afro than eruopean. Tamarindo was more a place for Americans to live and set up business for the surfer. Puerto Veijo is more europeans backpacking. Its a backwater town, older and less developed. The population is largely decedents of the slave trade. I have never been to the islands but I imagen that is very similer. Everyone rides a bicycle here. There are vacant lots on the main strip of town. The beach is not developed. Tamarindo has a dozen surf shops with all the international brands, Billibong, Reef, Hurley, etc; sushi restaurants on the dusty stright, high end lounges on top of 4 story building lots of new development. The the shops in Puerto Veijo are full local hand made jewelry, tie-die clothings and bob marley t-shirts. Everything is old here. The population is alot more poor. The prices of everything is two-thirds to half what Tamarindo is. The international airport is 4 hours away, where in Tamarindo the international airport is 45 minutes. The beaches in Puerto Veijo are small and not very nice. Tamarindo is wide white sand. But I am glad I came here. It is so different. The two coast for very different as many people have said. A good comparison between the vibe of Puerto Veijo and Tamarindo is the difference between vibe of San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Some random thoughts: Dogs run around everywhere. They just plop down and sleep anywhere. They walk in to the bars and cafes. Another odd thing is that the everywhere in Costa Rica they ask you to place your used toilet paper in to a trash can and not flush it down. The local plumbing system can not support the paper and it clougs up the place.

I head to Panama tomorrow. I booked a shuttle for $35 To take me to Bocas Del Toro which is on the other side of the Panamanian border. Its an air conditioned mini bus. I prefer local buses but shuttle help you across the border which should be easy, but any time you are dealing with the authorities it good to be safe.

Its 6pm now and the town is waking up and the party is about to begin.

 

Puerto Veijo streets at 6am



My Hotel

Puerto Veijo Beach 3pm


 

The story continues in Panama. Click there to read the Panama post of my trip